Published 12:00 am Friday, March 8, 2013

CHINA GROVE — East Rowan softball coach Mike Waddell summed up Thursday’s 4-3 loss at Carson in a single word.

He had a point. Carson (2-0, 1-0) scored the decisive run in the sixth on a wild pitch.
There was only one earned run in the game, and the teams combined for just one run-scoring hit — winning pitcher Lacee Hunsucker’s soft RBI single in the first inning.
Both teams expect to contend in the North Piedmont Conference, and they were evenly matched on an uncomfortable day with a lot more wind and cold than clutch hits.
East pitcher Sydney Poole allowed seven singles, two of them missiles off the bats of Hunsucker and Sidney Grkman. She struck out four and walked three and threw well enough to win most days.
“We’ve got to get better at making routine plays,” Waddell said. “If we just make the solid, routine plays we win today.”
East (0-1, 0-1) really made Hunsucker work in the early innings, fouling off a ton of pitches, but she didn’t appear to lose anything. She was still throwing hard when she got Tori Gaul to ground out to shortstop to end the game.
Hunsucker finished with a four-hitter. She struck out seven and walked two.
“It’s always a joy to beat East,” Hunsucker said. “Both teams are really good , so it was just an amazing feeling to come out on top today. We just kept going and going.”
Third baseman Steffi Sides led East with a strong defensive game, and she scored twice. Lara Drew had a triple for the Mustangs.
Hunsucker and Jana Bradshaw had two hits apiece for the Cougars.
It was 2-2 heading to the Carson sixth. Poole got the first out quickly, but No. 9 hitter Kayla Sigmon singled, and Kaycee Kennedy sacrificed her to second.
Bradshaw then hit a ball pretty well in the air to center field for what appeared to be a routine third out, but the Cougars got a break. The flyball was dropped, and Carson owned a 3-2 lead.
“If you put it in play, sometimes good things happen for you,” Carson coach Dee Miller said.
It turned out to be important for the Cougars that they didn’t settle for one run. Poole had to stay well off the plate with UNC Greensboro signee Grkman batting next, and Bradshaw alertly worked her way around the bases on passed balls and wild pitches to score a huge insurance run.
“I just had to see the ball on every pitch and go when I had a chance,” Bradshaw said. “It was very cold today, but we stayed focused and hyped the whole game.”
Bradshaw hesitated briefly on her way home, but she slid in safely, as East catcher Gaul’s throw to Poole, covering the plate, trickled away.
“In a tight game like this, the little things will make the difference,” Miller said. “We want to be smart on the bases, but we also want to be aggressive. Jana did a good job.”
East tried to fight back in the seventh. Drew whacked a triple into the right-field corner to start the inning, and she scored on Elaine Kepley’s groundout.But Hunsucker struck out dangerous leadoff hitter Courtney Lyerly for the second out, and Gaul’s bouncer to shortstop Rachel Freeze ended the game.
“I just had to stay confident,” Hunsucker said.
Hunsucker singled home Bradshaw for a 1-0 Carson lead in the first inning. East tied it in the second when Sides was waved home from third when Hunsucker was called for an illegal pitch.
Carson scratched a run on a passed ball in the third. Drew’s groundout scored Sides for a 2-2 tie in the fourth.
It’s a long season, and it figures to be tense again when the teams square off in Granite Quarry in three weeks.
“We just need to play better fundamental softball,” Waddell said. “If we do, we’ll be fine.”